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Could this cost Labour dear next time?

April 25th, 2009

Or might it be the means to re-igniting the party after a defeat?

For psephologists, one of the most interesting policies expounded by the Conservative party is that they will introduce individual voter registration to ‘restore the integrity of the ballot‘. It is considered a severe loop-hole that households are the registering unit at present, and that this leaves the system open to vote fraud – a problem that can be compounded by postal voting.

No-one can be certain of the effect of individual registration. It has been suggested that recent migrants, those with less-than-fluent English, and lower socio-economic classes could be the most difficult to convert into individually registered voters. This, apparently, could cost Labour in demographics that it is strongest. I will leave the detailed and quantifiable assessment of this claim to Mike Smithson – their analysis would be better-informed that I could be – but there seems a plausible truth that the groups most likely to convert wholesale to the new method are the affluent, educated, middle-classes.

The integrity of elections being paramount, I don’t actually disagree with the policy itself, but there is (of course) a partisan political angle. If a Conservative-minded activist was ready to rejoice at depressing the Labour vote, a Labour-minded partisan might also see huge advantage for his party in this proposal.

We still don’t have a full-grasp on the US model of campaigning – in spite of canvassing activity, the US parties had a much, much higher proportion of activists working the streets than we will ever see at our next election. There are a number of reasons for this, but one of them is (I suspect) the cri-de-guerre of voter registration.

Getting people to campaign for a party, with its policy platform and recent history, can be difficult – a shy activist might agree, but doubts and foibles might mean that their tepid support prevents them from becoming a door-knocking activist. The argument I would make is that giving moderately-engaged potential activists the task of voter registration would be a huge boon for Labour if this policy was enacted.

Getting people registered to vote is axiomatically good if you’re a democrat. Making sure that all who are entitled to register are on the electoral roll is a fundamentally ‘good thing’. Even the supporter who doesn’t feel comfortable defending recent policy decisions can be sent with a rosette, doing the door-to-door registrations with an easy heart – the inherent moral rightness of their activity, juxtaposed with a rosette, converts the wavering supporter into a street co-ordinator. Combine with that idea that Labour would tell a story about the Conservatives ‘disenfranchising the dispossessed’, and you have the sort of battle-cry that could inject real vigour into an otherwise demoralised party (should it lose the next General Election).

Mike has spoken before of the attitude he found in the Labour Party – “the Labour Party is a moral crusade, or it is nothing’ – the feeling of innate moral superiority to the Conservatives, a view that would be re-enforced if given this opportunity. My feeling is that, whatever short-term loss of votes Labour might suffer, that the energisation of the activist base with a new moral mission would be hugely beneficial in helping resurrect them from the depths of defeat.

I don’t think the policy is necessarily being imposed for partisan reasons, though it will be painted that way, and I think it could be a very important move to make elections beyond reproach. However, if one considers the partisan and electoral implications, I think the benefit to Labour in the medium-term could outweigh any loss of votes in the short-term.

Morus

Note from Robert: I will be updating the software this site runs on this evening, and there will be a brief period when comment posting is suspended

(Photo public domain from state.nj.gov)






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